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The amount of distrust currently surrounding Facebook's approach to privacy may not be enough to get people to stop using the world's most popular social network. But it is plenty to get a few young upstarts some funding to create a competitor.

Four young NYU kids are now in the possession of $200,000. And all they have to do is create a feasible, scalable alternative to Facebook. By September.

The ambitions of these four college kids trying to create an open Facebook alternative site were quickly realized. They set out to get $10,000 on Kickstarter. They announced their intentions on April 24. It took 12 days to reach their $10,000 goal. And after a glowing New York Times profile on May 12, they went on to collect $200,000 from 6,500 backers. 

The project closed this week. Now they just have to start coding.

As they wrote yesterday, “You may not hear too much from us in the coming months and we will try our best to provide regular updates, but our silence means we are hard at work.”

Considering how much talk — and little action — there's been about users fleeing Facebook, it will be interesting to see how this goes.

Plenty of bloggers have been sounding the alarm about leaving Facebook. And the company went so far as to reverse its recent privacy changes last week. But when it comes down to people actually leaving the network, those numbers aren't coming to fruition. 

"Quit Facebook Day" came and went on May 31. Only 34,000 Facebook users vowed to "quit Facebook" on the dedicated page, and that's not even the number who quit, it's just those who professed to care about the cause.

Social networkers aren't read to quit Facebook cold turkey. As Microsoft researcher Dana Boyd put it on her blog:

"Those with the most to gain from Facebook are the least likely to leave, even if they also have the most to lose."

That's part of the reason that the idea of Diaspora has been so powerful with so many people. As one of the founders' NYU professors told The New York Times last month:

“Everyone I talk to about this says, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been waiting for someone to do something like that.’ ”

Meanwhile, the Diaspora founders don't have much started yet. As they wrote on their Kickstarter page:

"We have a plan, a bunch of ideas and the programming chops to build Diaspora."

That didn't stop people from contributing. Even Mark Zuckerberg is supposedly a backer. According to The Times:

"A few months back, four geeky college students, living on pizza in a computer lab downtown on Mercer Street, decided to build a social network that wouldn’t force people to surrender their privacy to a big business. It would take three or four months to write the code, and they would need a few thousand dollars each to live on."

Now they've got more than a few thousand to live on. But they have to build something worth $200,000. That's a bigger challenge than they bargained for. And it may prove outside their reach. But their Kickstarter campaign proves how powerful the right idea can be at the right time.

Even if Diaspora just turns out to be wishful thinking.

Image: Kickstarter

Meghan Keane

Published 2 June, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

721 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Tom Nolan

What a great idea..good luck to them! I've often thought facebook has become worse as its gone along becoming more of a marketing tool than how it was originally, a way to catch up with new and old friends. The question is if Diaspora turns out to be hugely successful...how long will it be before it turns the way facebook did and go all corporate and full of adverts...which is kind of an inevitability!   

about 6 years ago

Rick Noel

Rick Noel, Digital Marketing Consultant at eBiz ROI, Inc.

Nice post Meghan. I agree with the statement that the ones with the most gain from Facebook are the least likely to leave. From a marketing standpoint, it is no secret that many businesses, especially B2C, rely on Facebook to promote their business online with fan pages used as a key (or for some SMBs, their only) online business presence. Individual users using Facebook as it was originally positioned (staying connected with friends and family) will likely live with the ad supported model driven in part by the sharing of personal information to target ads. If you surf the web with a browser configured to accept cookies, the leap to Facebook is a short one. Where else can you go to reconnect with such a large % of people from your past and present? Even when a potential competitor develops scalable technology and processes, value will be driven by membership and membership activity. The value proposition over Facebook will have to be strong to build critical membership mass. With over 400M users sharing 5 Billion pieces of content a week, I don't think Facebook is going to lose their social media throne or die on the vine anytime soon. It will be interesting to see how long Facebook can maintain its hugely dominant position in the social media market, maybe for a while,  like Google, who has dominated and continues to dominate the search market, even though it seems like every other high publicity murder case uses foresenic eveidence based on past personal Google searches. Stories on privacy concerns on giant companies like Facebook sell media more than they do kill giants.

about 6 years ago

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Chris Woodward

An open source community driven project cannot possibly compete with the existing network monopoly that is Facebook in order to develop the scale and power of software and architecture needed. Never mind security. Equally users have absolutely no reason to switch to another corporate overlord when Facebook does a great job of providing a free service.

The only alternative that stands a chance is one run as a business, employing the best full time staff, investing in the same advertising, business partnerships and hardware as Facebook, but with any profits going to charities chosen by the users so they are motivated to spread the word. This means users privacy can be balanced with money raised for charity and users have an incentive to open up more if they choose to.

Initial investors (Dragons Den?) could be promised a capped, say 300% ROI and a place on the board of trustees that are trusted to maximise profits for charity, not shareholders, while listening to the users. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would do some pro-bono work to help from developers to lawyers to ego driven businessmen to celebrities.

If Lady Gaga and co can go without social networking for a day in the name of one charity I'm sure they could be brought on board if they stand to help charities long term.

This is one internet business where people hold the ultimate power. Somebody just needs to get it going. I've not got the time and skills to do it but I'd happily join and promote it if someone gets it going.

Diaspora might even make a good starting point but it will need a heck of a lot more people behind it who have good business sense but aren't just in it for themselves.

over 5 years ago

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